Smooshed between I-65 to the south and 16th street to the north (with Pennsylvania and Bellefontaine hemming it in to the west and east), the Old Northside Historic District is a charming throwback to the 19th century when life in the neighborhood was a decidedly classier, wealthier affair. Heck, even a president had his digs here, so you know the neighborhood was legit! Reaching its cultural peak around WWI, the area fell into a slow decline that meant (sadly) many of its original houses were demolished.
Let’s get started with our first Indianapolis neighborhood tour, shall we?
Indianapolis neighborhood tour: Old Northside
If you’re coming from downtown, start up N Pennsylvania and swing a right once you hit 13th street (a block above I-65). If you look on your right, you’ll see a lovely two-story brick building – the Benjamin Harrison House (1230 N. Delaware Street, website), the 1875 Victorian home of native Hoosier President Benjamin Harrison. He gave impromptu speeches from the porch while running for president and even died in the master bedroom in 1901 – this was truly his home. There’s a lovely green space right next to it, perfect for a picnic or a quick photo op.
1 hour and 15 minute tours are offered every half hour Monday through Saturday from 10 AM – 3:30 PM. Tours cost $10 for adults and $5 for children aged 5-12.
Continue past the house and take a left to follow 12th street six blocks east. At the junction of 12th and Central, you can’t miss the Indiana Landmarks building (1201 Central Ave, website). Converted from a Methodist church and opened in 2011, the Indiana Landmarks Center is the hub of the nonprofit organization which fights “to defend architecturally unique, historically significant, and communally cherished properties”. The new HQ is gorgeous, both inside and out!
Tours of the center are available Fridays and Saturdays at noon from May through October and cost $5 for adults, $3 for students.
Tucked in next to the sprawling church building is the Morris-Butler House (1204 N Park Ave, website), another Victorian-era house turned museum. The house was built in 1864 for a local businessman (Morris) who later sold the house to the Butler family when he ran into financial struggles. Used in various capacities through the first half of the 20th century, Indiana Landmarks purchased the building in 1963 as the construction of I-70 threatened its demolition. Today the house is unfortunately closed to the public and is used for private events, but a walk by the stately house is definitely worth it!
Follow the curve in the road and head north on Park until you come to Great Oak Commons, a park between 14th and 15th. That was created from several empty lots. Styled as a Victorian walking park, Great Oak Commons has a fountain, gazebo, sensory garden, and even authentic gas lights! Perfect for a picnic or a little break after all the walking you’ve done!
To continue with our Indianapolis neighborhood tour of bucolic Old Northside, take a left on 15th (heading briefly north on Central as 15th gets divided) and get a good look at the smaller houses lining the Old Northside’s side streets. I particularly enjoyed the bright blue accents of the Restoration Baptist Church (1502 N New Jersey), a building that dates back to 1898.
Continue down 15th until you hit the T with Delaware; take a right and find yourself in from of the Harrison Center for the Arts (1505 N Delaware St , website), so cleverly disguised in a church that I had no idea it was an arts center until I had walked by several times! Filled with galleries and studios of local artists, the Harrison Center for the Arts is definitely worth a peek inside!
Head south again on Delaware to get a look at one more point of interest in Old Northside: the The Indianapolis Propylaeum (1410 N Delaware, website). Not sure what a propylaeum is? I wasn’t either, until I looked it up and it was described as “an entrance of architectural importance before a building or enclosure”. I’m still not quite sure why that’s the name of this gorgeous space, but nonetheless, the Indianapolis Propylaeum exists as a historically significant place where cultural events take place. You can check their website to see if you can pop in for a tea service when you’re in town!
If you continue down Delaware, you’ll get back to the Benjamin Harrison house where the tour first started.
NB: I’d encourage a little wandering down the streets in addition to the plan laid out – Old Northside is full of so many architectural gems it’s simply impossible to list them all here. Have your camera and architecture appreciation ready to go!
Where to eat
Thirsty Scholar: I love the Thirsty Scholar! Living within two blocks of a Starbucks for the first time seemed like it would be a big temptation, but this local coffee shop has got the corporate behemoth beat with great atmosphere, beautiful decorations, and they sell beer too! Great for spending a few hours working. (111 E 16th St; $$)
Tinker Street: The restaurant describes itself as “Wonderful wines. Foodier foods. Terrific times.” Housed in an adorably redone urban cottage, Tinker street offers tons of amazing plates using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. Their wine and beer list is great too! NB: they’re only open at night! (402 E 16th St; $$)
Foundry Provisions: I’ve yet to visit, but Foundry Provisions is always full when I walk by so that’s got to be a good sign. Located inside a bright-red brick building, Foundry serves coffee, breakfast, and lunch options at very reasonable prices. (236 E 16th St; $)
Princess Confections: If you’ve got a hankering for something sweet, head into this tiny little shop and grab one of their beautiful cupcakes. The shop also takes orders for special occasions. (111 E 16th St, $)
Where to shopQueen Bee Vintage: It’s literally impossible for me to walk by this place and not coo over something they’ve got on display, that’s how good it is! The shop is full of vintage mid-mod treasure, with lots of clothing and home good options. (111 E 16th St)
Tinker Coffee Co.: Are you a hipster who loves coffee? If so, the ultra-minimal, ultra-hip Tinker Coffee Co scene will be perfect for you! A locally-owned specialty coffee roaster, this spot doesn’t actually serve as a cafe but you can buy their products in this location, online, or in various other shops throughout the city. (212 E 16th St)
Where to stay
Old Northside Inn: Tucked into a quiet part of the neighborhood, the Old Northside Inn is located in an 1885 house with much of the original details left intact. There are six rooms available and breakfast is included. (1340 N Alabama St, website; $$$)
The Looking Glass Inn: The six rooms in the 100+-year-old inn are typical B&B fare and promise a quiet stay just a few minutes’ drive from downtown. The inn offers complimentary breakfast (continental only on weekdays) as well as some additional amenities. (1319 N New Jersey St, website; $$)
Stone Soup Inn: With eight rooms and two separate accommodations, the Stone Soup Inn is a less intimate option than the smaller inns – a plus or minus, depending on who you ask. Less pricey than the other options, the Stone Soup Inn offers continental breakfast on weekdays and a full breakfast on weekends. (1304 N Central Ave, website; $)
Inn at the Villa: If you’re looking for a getaway feel, the Inn at The Villa is probably for you. Equipped with a restaurant and spa, this inn edges closer to a full-amenity hotel than any of the others in Old Northside. With a variety of room options, everyone will find something to their taste here if they don’t mind the higher price tag. (1456 N Delaware St, website; $$-$$$)
What did you think about this bespoke Indianapolis neighborhood tour of Old Northside? Totally rocking, or are you less enthused by glorious Victorian architecture than I am? What neighborhood would you suggest exploring in your neck of the woods?